July 11, 2023
Have you ever started a book and thought “well, not sure I’m completely into this book, it’s not so bad, but I don’t really like the characters, and it’s not completely grabbing me,” and then kept reading anyway cause you have hope, and then all-of-a-sudden you find yourself unable to put it down? Well, that very sich happened to me recently with a book called Wall of Eyes, by Margaret Miller. I was saying to myself, “I can’t even stand the slightly quirky policeperson, Inspector Sands,” and nearly put the book down, but the cover is so good! And I had faith! And it was rewarded, as the book took a turn, focusing more on a wayward club manager, and then folding the Inspector back in interestingly, and then blam! A good solid twisty ending. I hear there’s a second Inspector Sands book, and might just try to track it down. Oh, the below Cocktail Talk quote was a good one, too.
“Johnny?” Alice said. “Have some?”
“Thanks. Maurice forgot the Cognac. I’ll ring.”
“I thought you’d be going teetotal,” Philip said.
“Me?” Johnny stared. “Why?”
“The new girl disapproves, doesn’t she?”
“Oh. Yes, she does. But you wouldn’t think she’d count a couple of drops of Cognac in coffee.”
“T.T.’s count everything.”
“Is that right?” Johnny said.
–Margaret Miller, Wall of Eyes
June 6, 2023
I haven’t read much by Dame Ngaio Marsh, the famous New Zealand mystery writer (and theater director) who was one of the Queens of Mystery during the golden age, and who wrote a fair number of books and stories featuring the well-mannered, but also slyly funny, Chief Inspector Alleyn of London’s Met police (later, Superintendent Alleyn, by the by). Not sure why I haven’t dug into her murderous oeuvre before, but hey, I make mistakes! Not too long ago, however, I came across a story by her featuring him, and liked it, and so picked up this here book, Death of a Fool. A dandy read, taking place in a small small British town, where there’s some pagen-ish annual ritual dancing, in which a dancer manages to lose their head! Literally! Which leads to the Inspector being called. Lots of fun for the mystery maven, but also the folklore lover. But be prepared for some dialect, as in the below wonderful quote.
“Fiddlededee. Let’s have some brandy. Where’s the grog-tray. Right the bell, Otters.”
The elderly parlour-maid answered the bell at once, like a servant in a fairy-tale, ready-armed with a tray, brandy-glasses and a bottle of fabulous Cognac.
“I ‘fer it at this stage,” Dame Alice said, “to havin’ it with the coffee. Papa used to say, ‘When dinner’s dead in yer and bed is still remote, ring for the brandy.’ Sound advice in my ‘pinion.”
–Ngaio Marsh, Death of a Fool
May 5, 2023
This is a spring drink to me (taste it, and then you can see if it is for you, too), though it does have a hearty Cognac base, in case the temperature is still getting chilly where you are – it certainly still can on some spring nights over here in the 206. There’s a little extra work involved in this one, too, as this is the extra-work time of year for many, spring that is, as one plants plants so they deliver veg and flowers and such later in summer, but don’t, one hopes, freeze in a late spring cold night (as mentioned above – maybe give them some Cognac if it gets too cold. That’s a joke! Plants like water, not booze.) For this drink, no planting, but you will have to make a raspberry vinegar syrup (check the recipe on that link for this syrup recipe), which isn’t too tough, and which is tasty, in this drink and others, as well as just in soda (that’s a swell springtime drink if you need a night off the hard stuff).
The Flowering Grape
2 ounces Pierre Ferrand Cognac
1 ounce St-Germain elderflower liqueur
1/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 ounce raspberry vinegar syrup (I detail how to make raspberry vinegar syrup here)
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add everything. Shake well.
2. Strain through a fine strainer into a cocktail glass. Drink to spring.
April 21, 2023
Does one, when one is older, feel oldest in the Spring (as opposed to the other seasons)? I could see an argument being made for Winter, as the cold chills old bones, and perhaps Fall as well, as that’s the season when things (trees and their ilk) shed leaves and begin to go dormant, which points to getting old. In Summer, all are young, for some moments at least. I lean Spring, I have to say, as it’s when youth begins to be so evident after Winter, what with buds on the trees and shorts on or above the knees. Not to maudlin naturally, but mulling it, and placing that point as a reason why I’m having this delicious number today, a drink names after the explorer who went looking for the fountain of youth. Cause when the old bones yearn for being younger, that ol’ fountain sounds mighty fine. As it’s not, ya know, real, this drink (which will make you feel younger, for moments if not forever) will have to suffice, for now!
The Ponce de León, from Dark Spirits
1 ounce Cognac
1/2 ounce white rum
1/2 ounce Cointreau
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
Chilled brut Champagne or sparkling wine
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the Cognac, rum, Cointreau, and grapefruit juice. Shake well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Fill the glass not quite to the top with the Champagne. Sip wisely.
December 23, 2022
There are holiday traditions, there are wonderful holiday traditions, and then there’s having the legendary Fish House Punch at the end of each year (or the beginning) – that’s a tradition nearly above all others, at least in the U.S., where this venerable punch has been punched up and sipped for hundreds of years, starting way back in the year 1732 (according to yore – I wasn’t actually there, though I am rather old) at Philadelphia’s Schuylkill fishing club, where I am sure (because sometimes the world is actually okay – meaning, I am not really sure, as I wasn’t there, but feel sure anyway, and want it to be true) folks sipped it by the bucketfuls around this time of year, much like I am now in the habit of doing, thanks to pals Eve and Curtis, who are annual Fish-House-Punch makers and distributors, and so I raise a glass in cheers to them, and to those who consumed this mix in the past, and to you, naturally, and to this sentence, which much like this year is now finally ending.
Fish House Punch, Serve 10
Block of ice (or cracked ice)
1 750-milliliter bottle dark rum
15 ounces cognac
7-1/2 ounces peach brandy
7-1/2 ounces freshly-squeezed lemon juice
7-1/2 ounces Simple Syrup
1. Add the ice to a punch bowl (fill about three quarters full if using cracked ice.) Add the rum, cognac, brandy, juice, and syrup. Stir 10 times, while humming holiday tunes.
2. Stir 10 more times. Serve in punch cups or wine glasses or what have you.
December 5, 2022
I’ve had a few James M. Cain Cocktail Talks here, which makes pretty swell sense, as he is a noir master, and I like those kinds of books lots, lots I tell you. It’s mad to think that perhaps the most classic of the Cain classics (though opinions may vary, with good reason), The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, came out within a year of each other, or very close. What a whammo one two punch in the brain that was! The other day I had an urge to pick up a book that I could read probably in a single day, at the most two, and I reached for the latter of that deadly duo, Double Indemnity. It’d been a bit since I’d re-read a Cain, and also, it’s just not a very long book, my copy clocks in at 125 pages, and it moves scenically, emotionally, crazily, so quickly through its tale of murder, insurance fraud, and madness (in a way). Such good pacing, and such a master class in economical writing, if there are people who haven’t read it, well, they should! Calculating (to say it mildly) narrator, femme fatale, sideways sort-of hero (or crime solver), multiple crimes, maybe the noir-est ending out there, what a book! And what a quote below about not being able to get stinko!
I didn’t dare call her up, because for all I knew even now her wires might be tapped. I did that night what I had done the other two nights, while I was waiting on the inquest, I got stinko, or tried to. I knocked off a quart of Cognac, but it didn’t have any effect. My legs felt funny, and my ears rang, but my eyes kept staring at the dark, and my mind kept pounding on it, what I was going to do. I didn’t know. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t even get drunk.
–James M. Cain, Double Indemnity
November 2, 2021
Way back now, oh, 6 years ago (wowza, times flies) or thereabouts I first read the Henry Kane pulper Martinis and Murder, starring detective, drinker, dancer (well, probably), romancer (certainly), and puncher Peter Chambers. And had a number of Cocktail Talks from it (check out Martinis and Murder Part I, Part II, and Part III to get caught up a bit). But recently I was hankering for some pocket-sized pulp reading, as I often am, and was pulled in by its catchy title and even-more-catchy cover, so re-read it. And, you know what? I found even more Cocktail Talk worthy quotes. The book is spilling boozy goodness (around some murdering and mystery-ing and hard-boiled action and smooching and such). Heck, in six years from now, I’ll probably read it again, and find even more potable quotables. But for today, let’s go with the below.
I came back and I asked, “How about some of the finest Sidecars ever concocted?”
“If you let me watch.”
She trailed behind me. I turned and pushed her against the wall of the kitchen and kissed her hard.
“That for inspiration? she gasped.
“That’s for nothing,” I said.
I went to work with lemons and Cointreau and Cognac.
We brought the mixer into the living room, and in no time at all, fleece gathered.
–Henry Kane, Martinis and Murder
September 24, 2021
It is (please don’t shun me), pretty rare that I get itching for a drink (well, that’s not rare, this next bit) and decide what I really want is to pour ingredients over the back of a spoon slowly, one at a time, so they make pretty layers, Pousse-Café style. Not that I don’t believe there are many drinks made like such that are wonders, because there are and I do, with each layer’s spirit or liqueur delicately (usually) unveiling itself, mingling slightly with the former or next layer, a little more, then a little less. It’s a memorable experience, but one that sadly I’m just not that awesome at making. I probably need to make more! But because of such, the rarity mentioned above is the norm on most days. But not today! Today, I woke up dreaming about an Eve’s Garden, and spoon-back-pouring skills or not, that’s what I’m having.
This particular pousse-styler comes from one of the legends in the bar firmament: Charles H. Baker, Jr., who wrote two classics: An Exotic Drink Book and An Exotic Cookery Book—first released by Crown in 1939 as A Gentleman’s Companion. In the drink book, there’s a section called “Ten More which Are Not Called Angels,” right after a section called “First a Brief Company of Six Angels,” which is where you’ll find our Eve, and of the drink he says “This sort of thing only goes to show what grown men will do to keep from devoting their time to something constructive in life.” It takes, friends, a steady hand. But in the end, is worth it, as the ingredients do their mingling on the tongue when sipped slow. One of the ingredients, by the way, is Crème Yvette, which for years wasn’t around. It is around more, now, but if you absolutely can’t find it, you could go crème di violette. Baker won’t mind, much.
1 ounce Damiana
1 ounce Crème Yvette
1 ounce Cognac
1/4 ounce heavy cream
1 sour cherry, for garnish
1. Add the Damiana to a cordial or other similar attractive glass. Slowly top it with the Crème Yvette, pouring over the back of a spoon if needed—you don’t want them to mix, because layering as much as possible is desired as alluded to above a bunch.
2. Pour the Cognac on top of the crème Yvette, again pouring over a spoon if needed so that they don’t mix.
3. Slowly spoon the cream on top of the cognac, and gently place the cherry on top of the cream.
A Note: In Mr. Baker’s book, this is garnished with a green cherry, but I like the sour cherry (and am a bit wary of the green cherry). But if you want to substitute the green for authenticity, I won’t stop you.